© Submitted photo
Of the more than 100 scallops pulled up during dragging late last fall by Gus Hynes of Fox Island River, the majority were clappers, which are basically empty shells.
As a long time fish harvester out of his home community of Fox Island River, Wallace Leroy has strong concerns about what’s happening in Port au Port Bay.
His biggest concern is the collapse of the scallop fishery in the bay, and he said there needs to be something done to find out why stocks have died off when they haven’t in nearby St. George’s Bay.
As a member of the Port au Port Bay Fishery Committee, Leroy said the group is trying to find out if it’s a change in the water temperature, a change in the pH level in the water or something related to the oil drilling on Shoal Point in recent years.
This past season he didn’t get enough scallops for a feed, he said, despite dragging a number of times. The majority of what his crew brought up were what’s known as clappers — basically empty shells with no little or no meat inside.
Leroy said there are nine or 10 fish harvesters who operate out of Fox Island River, in addition to a number of others around Port au Port Bay, and there’s a big concern that whatever happened to the scallops could eventually happen to crab and lobsters.
“We have a delicate ecosystem in this bay and if anything major happens, it could wipe out our fishery altogether,” Leroy said, adding tests need to be done for oil or any other chemicals on the scallops to detect whether they’ve been contaminated.
He said an increase in frequency and intensity of coastal erosion, tidal surges and extreme weather associated with climate change draws even more concern about the Port au Port Bay area.
“I remember back in the 1970s the land running out 100 feet on the bay side of the road. Now in sections if you go four feet, you’re into the water,” he said. “There’s been an awful lot of erosion over the years.”
Meanwhile, in a prepared release, the fishery committee said Janice Flynn, a biologist and a member of the group, has asked the provincial and federal fisheries departments, government environment agencies and Memorial University’s Harris Centre for assistance in resources for research.
Flynn also asked those groups to help develop action plans to address three of the committee's primary concerns.
The first is to find the cause for the fishery’s collapse and determine possible solutions. Potential factors to be investigated include seismic testing, climate change — warmer water temperatures, carbon dioxide absorption and acidification of the ocean — pollution from human waste and industrial sites and pathogens.
The second is pollution risks to the health of the Port au Port Bay Marine Ecosystem. Research is needed to identify, quantify, determine degrees of risk and remediate sources of pollution in the Port au Port Bay area.
The third is research on climate change related to coastal erosion and tidal surge impacts on communities in the Port au Port Bay area. The committee believes additional research is needed on other vulnerable locations where significant, rapid coastal erosion is occurring.
Bill O'Gorman of West Bay is optimistic the committee, in conjunction with government agencies and the university, can work together and act on these issues.
He said so far the committee has received a positive response from some government people and the Harris Center who have agreed to help mobilize research on these critical issues.